Friction

Why is it that we writers have problems explaining to others that we’re trying to write? Why is it that other people just don’t understand? I think I might have an answer. Take a look at this:

Priorities

On the left, we have a list of important things around us in daily life—for example, Day Job, Food, Coffee, and (of course) Writing. And they’re arranged here in the order many writers would agree with. The most important things are at  the top, so Writing is just below the Day Job (marginally more important because it pays for the stuff you need to write—computer and software, or a typewriter, or pens and paper, or parchment and quills; they all cost cash), and dealing with a burning house is more important than that—if only because a burned-out house means you have to write in your local Starbucks, which might not be too comfortable (their appalling choice of ambient music being a real concentration killer, and all that).

So-called “Normal” people, of course, have their priorities all screwed up, as can be seen from the line on the right. To them, Food is more important than Coffee, for example. But the real problem for us is that Writing is way, way down on their list of priorities. Yes, this means that to non-writers, Food is more important than Writing. Hard to believe, I know, but then these Normal People are a weird bunch. (Note that the Day Job is at a slightly lower priority for the Normal Person; that’s because your Day Job is not as important to them as their Day Job.)

As we writers know, Normal People think we have the same priorities they do (strange, but apparently true). And this is where we get a problem. The bigger the difference between a Writer’s priority for something, and a Normal Person’s priority for that same thing, the more Friction there is. And as you can see from the diagram, there is a big difference in the priorities for Writing. We writers put it up high, where it belongs. Normal People put it lower than scrubbing out a trash can.

And this is why Normal People just don’t get us. You’re writing, and other people can see you’re writing. You’re doing real work, and it takes focus, and getting into and staying in The Zone means no distractions. But a Normal Person looks at you and sees someone messing about, not doing anything vital. And there are trash cans that need scrubbing. Cue the Friction.

Kindle, or No?

I thought I was being so clever, having an Android tablet. After all, why buy a Nook AND and a Kindle, when you can buy one device and download the Nook and Kindle apps (and Kobo, and Diesel, and a bunch of others) for free?

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Well, in hindsight it really wasn’t that great an idea. Your mileage may vary on this, but for me it turned out that every time I felt like reading (to be more accurate, whenever I got time to read, which hasn’t been that often recently), I would pick up the tablet only to find that the battery was flat. Even just sitting there not being used, the battery only lasts a couple of days—and actually using it to read, you get a few hours at most before having to plug in the charger. Hardly what you’d call convenient.

And so a couple of weeks ago I went down to the basement and dusted off my Nook Simple Touch. It had been sitting there for months, and yet still had enough charge in the battery to be able to use it. It’s back in daily use, and I’d forgotten just how great it is to be able to read every day and not have to worry about charging it more often than once a fortnight.

In any case, how many different e-readers accounts do I really need? I have Nook and Kindle accounts; I also set up a Kobo account, but I never used it. At this moment I don’t need more. So right now I have the Nook, and I have the tablet I can use for Kindle books (unfortunately there are quite a few books available for Nook that you can’t get for Kindle, and vice-versa, hence the need for both). And the tablet’s battery is dead again, so I can’t read Kindle books until the tablet’s charged, which takes a couple of hours.

So, the question: should I buy a Kindle to solve that problem? I see the basic model is down to about $70, which isn’t bad at all. So I’ll definitely be giving that some thought.

On the Writing front . . .

Some status on the various projects:

  • The Voyage of Valerie McGrath: This went for final approval a couple of weeks ago. No word back on any changes, and the anthology will be on shelves fairly soon now. I imagine I and the other short story authors will receive an ARC for final proofing before it goes to press, and that’ll give us all a chance to check each other’s work for last-minute mistakes (and it’ll be fun to read their stories, too—I’m looking forward to that).
  • Gunn & Bohemia II: Great news to report here—I finished the timeline and sent it off to my content editor a few days ago. Subject to her comments and requests for changes, that means I should be able to start actually writing the first draft within the next few days, or a couple of weeks at most. Which means, if all goes well, I could have a completed ‘script before September. Don’t hold me to that, though—I’ll be writing and editing at the same time, and that’s not something I’ve done before. I don’t know how it’s going to work switching back and forth. Still, it means the first draft will need less work to get into publishable shape (Mr. Gunn & Dr. Bohemia took months, because the draft I submitted needed a lot of editing work).
  • Top Secret Writing Project #1: Well, it’s not really that much of a secret now. I have a full-length first draft I wrote the year before last, and I’ve been editing it as a background project. Two chapters done, twenty-eight to go. It’s a sort of gothic/sci-fi/steampunk mix inspired by ideas from Gormenghast and Dark City and one or two other things. Fellow author Craig Hallam got a sneak preview of the first chapter way back and was kind enough to critique it.
  • Top Secret Writing Project #2: Another story that’s been sitting in the pile for a while. This one is another steampunk story but with a twist (don’t ask; I don’t want to spoil the surprise). I have half a first draft, and the plan is to edit what I have so far then continue on through the existing storyboard and get it finished. But that is most definitely at the bottom of the stack, and won’t see any work done on it until I’m done with TSWP#1.

Enough for now. Time to settle down for some telly, I think. Until next time . . .

Writing For Dummies

I’ve been re-reading a book I first read a very long time ago: Pavane, by Keith Roberts.

When I first read it, I was a reader and I took in the story, which I remember well. (It’s set in a Britain of 1968 in which history has taken a very different course from our own. In this alternate history Queen Elizabeth I was assassinated in 1588, leading to the Catholic Church dominating Europe and bringing about a new dark age. In this 1968 Britain there is no electricity, there are no phones, and steam powers pretty much everything.)

Now I’m reading it from the perspective of a writer. And I’m learning something about writing in the process.

Here is a short passage to illustrate a point:

At three in the afternoon the engine sheds were already gloomy with the coming night. Light, blue and vague, filtered through the long strips of the skylights, showing the roof ties stark like angular metal bones. Beneath, the locomotives waited brooding, hulks twice the height of a man, their canopies brushing the rafters. The light gleamed in dull spindle shapes, here from the strappings of a boiler, there from the starred boss of a flywheel. The massive road wheels stood in pools of shadow.

This isn’t just writing; this is poetry. The locomotives weren’t just sitting in a shed—they waited, brooding. The light doesn’t just come in through the skylights, it filters in and gleams in dull spindle shapes. People talk about painting with words; if this isn’t a concrete example, I don’t know what is.